Monday, November 23, 2009

Nice things happen

This is the painting I will enter for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Student/Teacher Art Show.

Plum Blossom Awakening by Lauren Thompson

Mr. Choey wet-mounted it for me so that all the wrinkles are gone, and it will be preserved. I still need to matte and frame it.

We have the option of listing a price for our paintings, not that very many of them sell. Last year, when I submitted for the first time, I had no idea how people price their work for a show like this, so I put $75, which would cover the cost of the frame and matte and some of the supplies I'd bought for the class. When I went to the show, I was amazed to see that prices ranged from $150 to $800, with $300 being about average. Some pieces looked very professional, and others, well, not so much. But most artists had listed a price; only a few went with "NFS." I thought, "Next year, I'm pricing up."

I didn't expect that anyone would buy my painting, though of course I was a tiny bit hopeful. Over the month that the show was up, only about five works out of eighty were awarded with the red dot sticker: "sold."

The last day of the show was a Saturday, when I was at the Garden anyway for the Chinese brush painting class. I took a break from the class in order, I hoped, to pick up my painting, so that I wouldn't have to come back for it the next day. (This was in February, and I'm dependent on my bike for travel, so I was hoping to avoid another cold ride. And Sundays are always busy for me anyway.) The gallery and adjoining cafe were posted to closed at 4:00 pm, but when I arrived at the entrance at 3:20 pm or so, I was told by the guard that it was too late to go in. There were a number of us who wanted to visit that building, but she was firm -- NO. Soon they were going to start asking people to leave, and they didn't have enough guards, so no one new was allowed to enter.

Well, I started to get annoyed. It wasn't the first time that I had experienced the Garden as rigid and nonaccomodating; up came the memory and resentment of bringing my toddler son to the Garden and being scolded for serving him his sippy cup and a baggie's worth of Oatios -- no outside food allowed. And other memories, too. The garden is a beautiful place and there is so much I love about it, but I have found it hard to let go of these little grudges against it. Now, being denied access to my painting and being forced to return another day in the cold were felling blows.

I was able to walk away from that guard before I spoke in anger, but by the time I reached the guards at the entrance of the classroom building, I couldn't hold back. I complained to them about the other guard, and they jumped to her defense. The rules aren't up to them, there aren't enough guards, there's nothing any of them could do. I could see, in the eyes of one of the guards, a look that to me read, "Oh yes, another entitled Park Slope type, always wanting things exactly her way." Meanwhile, I'm saying, "I just want to pick up my painting!" To which one of the guards responded, "They probably wouldn't let you take it anyway." Which was probably true.

After venting a bit more, I went back down to class and tried to paint. I knew I had behaved badly.  Equanimity, I counseled myself. Let go. But I was still annoyed.

The next day, I arrived during the two hours designated as "pick up" time, cold and a little miffed. When I got down to the gallery, I saw a couple standing near my painting. It turns out that they had just decided to buy it. They were thrilled to meet me in person -- they treated me like a celebrity, and I blushed a lot. All I could say was, "Thank you. I feel so honored that you like my painting. I feel so honored."

I had with me the packing material for the frame, so I packed it up for them. They gave the exhibit director a check and then went off, hand in hand, taking my painting with them. I felt so full of joy, so grateful. As I climbed the stairs to leave, unexpectedly empty-handed, I felt an immense urge to bow. Along the stairway are planted soaring bamboo and palm trees, so I bowed to them. I bowed deeply, tears in my eyes. Then I thought, I have to apologize.

I went back to the education building -- fortunately, one of the guards from the day before was at the desk, the one with the eyes. I looked right into those eyes. I said, "I don't know if you remember me, I gave you a hard time yesterday about not being able to get my painting. Well, I'm here to apologize. I'm sorry that I took out my frustration on you. I shouldn't have done that."

He rocked back in his chair, smiling, and said, "Well, that's all right! Don't worry about it!" Then I told him how a couple had just bought it -- how if I had been able to take it home the day before, that wouldn't have happened. It wasn't so much that they bought my painting, but that they wanted it, and that they were so nice. The guard kept saying, "You see? Everything works out. You see?" Then he said to one of the other guards, "That's why I like working here. Nice things happen. You see?"

So I bundled up and put on my helmet, thanking him, thanking both of them, and giving them a little bow. Then I rode home, smiling and thinking about how I would tell my husband what had happened. Not just about the painting, but about the gratitude.

Nice things happen.

Birth of a star amid space dust 
[Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/P.S. Teixeira (Center for Astrophysics)]

P.S. That painting was of a wild orchid. It looked something like this:

My teacher, Mr. Choey, had seen it in the show. He never said, exactly, that my painting was incorrect, but he did say, "I will show you the right way to paint orchids." And he did, but his were cultivated orchids, not wild orchids. I'll keep working on them on my own. My goal is to paint something like this:

Orchid Dance by Cindy Pon. She is an up-and-coming children's book author and illustrator, as well as a dedicated Chinese brush artist.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Poetry Friday: Bamboo

In truth, Basho isn't my favorite haiku poet, but I like this one. It goes with my painting.

a cuckoo's cry --
moonlight seeping through
a large bamboo grove

[translation by Haruo Shirane]

“When composing a verse let there not be a hair’s breadth separating your mind from what you write; composition of a poem must be done in an instant, like a woodcutter felling a huge tree or a swordsman leaping at a dangerous enemy.” (Matsuo Basho)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Trust in Sangha

I want to post today, but I need to make it short and quick. I am a writer by profession as well as avocation and temperament, and today I have a deadline to meet. Revision as practice -- now that is an idea worth exploring. (Or, procrastination as practice, maybe?) But not today, not here.

So I am posting one of my favorite passages from Thay, about the role of Sangha. Thay has said that of the three jewels, the most important is Sangha. His is truly the bodhisatva vision -- I am within you, and you are within me. We go nowhere alone.

When we are in a Sangha,
we are like a drop of water in a river.
We allow the Sangha to hold us and transport us.
Don’t be like a drop of oil in the river,
not mixing with the other drops of water --
that way you arrive nowhere.
Allow yourself to be transported by the Sangha
so that your pain, sorrow, and suffering
are recognized and embraced.

You have to trust the Sangha.
Imagine you are a drop of water
that would like to go to the ocean.
If you go alone, you might evaporate,
but if you allow yourself to be
embraced and transported by the Sangha,
then you will get there.
You suffer only when you are a separate drop of water.

Please remember this.

 painting: River Run by Devon Featherstone

Devon Featherstone is an award-winning, self-taught artist based in British Columbia. Click here to contact her about works available for purchase. 

[Quotation from Peace Begins Here. The line breaks are mine.]

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why practice?

Why practice mindfulness? Why step, stride, stumble along this path marked out by Siddhārtha Gautama 2,500 years ago?

Different traditions seem to have different answers. Different individuals have different answers. Presumably, they are really all the same answer.

Why practice?

  • To wake up. (I thought Suzuki Roshi might say this.)
  • To develop Compassion. (I thought the Dalai Lama might say this.)
  • To grasp ultimate reality. (Robert Thurman?)
  • To live with ease. (Sharon Salzberg?)
  • To become enlightened. (Whatever that means.)
  • To become lighter.
  • To be reborn in a happier form.
  • To cease to be reborn.
  • To suffer less from the slings and arrows of one's own arsenal.
  • To suffer less from slings and arrows period.
  • To be directed.
  • To be free.
  • To escape.
  • To return.
  • To crave less.
  • To crave but react less.
  • To relax.
  • To sleep better.
  • To sleep when one is asleep, to be awake when one is awake.
  • To become a buddha.
  • To be a buddha.
  • To become a bodhisatva.
  • To be a bodhisatva.

And why do I practice? All of the above.

But that answer is too easy. Sometimes I don't really know why I practice. But I think that Thay is on to something when he says, "Because I like it." Because it brings well-being. And that is the sum of the Buddha's way: if something increases well-being in you, keep doing it. If it increases ill-being in you, stop doing it (or at least do it less).

From a dharma talk given on June 11, 2009:

Why [do] you practice sitting meditation? The best answer is: Because I like it. Why do you practice walking meditation? Because I like it. . . . The practices of mindful walking, mindful breathing, smiling, bring well-being, happiness.
I like this. (Tee hee.) I guess in this instance, it is okay to have a preference. But this would be a deeply considered preference, not a conditioned preference. I guess.

Fodder for a future post ...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Poetry Friday: Three Haiku

Thanks to the storm formerly known as Hurricane Ida, we've had a very blustery day. I was out in it, riding to and from tai chi class. I watched the trees grow more bare with every gust. It was haiku, that is, bittersweet, to know that when the color and cover of the leaves are gone, they won't return for a long while.

Issa would know what I mean.

Of his 9,300 poems, here are three.

blowing from the east
west south north...
autumn gale

vast sky
vast earth
autumn passes too

behind me
the autumn wind blows
me home

The translator, David G. Lanoue, suggests that on one level, "home" in the last poem means death, our final destination. Tradition probably supports that interpretation. But at the same time, having just been out in the wind and having it behind me only half of my journey, I think that "home" might indeed mean home -- the sense that having fought one's way to whatever errand one needed to run, one is now happy to be hurried home, no matter how humble "home" may be.

Then there is Thay's sense of "home." The autumn wind nudging us, pushing us, back home, to the present moment. If you're not paying attention, you'll fall down.

Translations by David G. Lanoue. Visit his website to search through them all.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Discrimination: Sometimes You Gotta Choose

I want to enter a painting for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Student/Teacher Art Exhibit. I can only enter one. I could choose something that I have already done, or I could enter something that I paint over the next week. The paintings can be quite large -- the only real limitation is the cost of backing, matting, and framing. (We are responsible for all of that, including meeting the Exhibit's requirements.)

Two paintings I'm considering are small enough to fit on my scanner, so I thought I would post them here, in the M & L Student/Teacher Art Exhibit. (I would love to enter both, as a unit that look very much like two paintings but are really just one painting, as Required.)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Brush Sweeps Mind

In Chinese Brush Painting class, we always start with calligraphy, as is traditional. One practices the strokes in calligraphy, then applies them in painting.

Our teacher, Mr. Kwok Kay Choey, explains the composition and origin of the characters. Some are a teaching in themselves.


The radical on the left means "heart/mind"; the character on the right means "my." Together, it means "awakening." If you know your own heart and mind, you have awakened.


The top portion depicts reeds or branches and means "broom" or "sweep." In the middle, we see dust in a dustpan. At the bottom, "heart/mind." Your heart and mind swept clean of dust: that describes the state of enlightenment.

This reminds me always of a saying by Jakusho Kwong Roshi, a successor of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi: "breath sweeps mind." I have a CD set of talks by Jakusho Kwong which I am slowly making my way through. "Breath sweeps mind" is an often helpful gatha for me as I try to settle into meditation.

No Fear

I think of this concept now as "no more fear," because of Mr. Choey's explanation of the character. The top portion, "No," depicts a person carrying wood. All of the timber has been carried away from the hillside, there is "no more," it has been taken away. The bottom portion means "Fear": on the left, the heart/mind radical; on the left, the character for an owl with its two big eyes. I have to admit I'm not clear on this last part, so I will ask Mr. Choey for clarification and update this post later.